Ukraine Requires Women to Register for Military Conscription as Russia Threat Looms

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Military parade in honor of the Independence Day of Ukraine
Military parade in honor of the Independence Day of Ukraine in August 2018. (Photo by spoilt.exile via Wikimedia Commons)

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KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Ministry of Defense has significantly expanded the pool of Ukrainian women who are required to register for possible military conscription in the event of a major war.

According to an updated regulation that went into effect Friday, Dec. 17, women between 18 and 60 who are "fit for military service" and work in a broad range of professions are required to register with Ukraine's armed forces. In the event of a major war, this expanded reserve of women can be mobilized as part of the national reserve to serve in a broad range of military specialties.

"This is not about conscription after reaching some age, as it is for men. It is about conscription in the wartime. And considering more than 122,000 Russian troops are at our borders, the decision seems logical, timely, and sensible," said Oleksandra Ustinova, 36, a member of Ukraine's national parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.

    "This sends a powerful signal to Moscow that Ukrainians are ready to resist," Ustinova told Coffee or Die Magazine. "Although we strive for introduction of the contract army, in current situation, the decision to educate as many people as possible to hold arms and to be ready to serve seems a good one."

    Russia invaded Ukraine's eastern Donbas region in 2014, and the fighting is ongoing along a static, entrenched front line. A recent Russian military buildup on Ukraine's border has spurred concerns about a full-scale Russian re-invasion this winter. Despite the looming threat, Ukraine has not yet mobilized its operational reserves, which include some 430,000 combat veterans of the Donbas war.

    Women in certain professions were already eligible for military conscription, according to earlier legislation. However, the recent revision of the law regulating Ukraine's military reserves dramatically expanded the number of professions that qualify for mandatory registration with the armed forces. Now women who are librarians, journalists, musicians, veterinarians, and psychologists -- among many other varied professions -- are required to register for possible military service.

    "I believe that military service for women is a perfectly logical initiative, given Russia's constant aggression," said Natalka Barsuk, 46, an economist who lives in Kyiv and is now eligible for the draft.

    "It is very good that women have started to be taken into account," said Liudmyla Bileka, a 31-year-old volunteer combat medic who, besides serving in the war zone, has helped train Ukrainian soldiers in combat first aid.

    "I have a positive attitude -- I registered myself voluntarily in 2014. The only issue is the education and training of these women," Bileka told Coffee or Die.

    The pool of women who could potentially be mobilized is a bit narrower in terms of age than the pool of those required to register with the military. According to the updated law, Ukrainian women between the ages of 20 and 40 can be mobilized for military service as regular soldiers, and from 20 to 50 years of age for service as officers. There are exemptions for some women with children, as well as full-time students and graduate students.

    The deadline for registration with military authorities has not yet been announced. The Ukrainian defense ministry is expected to release more information about registration procedures in the coming weeks. For their part, employers are required to ensure that their female employees are complying with the new law.

    Women have served in the Ukrainian armed forces since 1993. Since the war began in 2014, women have played a key role for Ukraine's armed forces. They have served on the front lines as infantry, combat medics, and snipers. They also helped sustain the war effort as civilian volunteers by procuring vital supplies and equipment and delivering them to the front lines -- often under extremely dangerous conditions.

    At the war's outset, many Ukrainian women volunteered for combat service within one of a number of ad hoc militias. Known as the "volunteer battalions," these combat outfits comprised civilian volunteers who often had little or no military background. Within these units, Ukrainian women served alongside their male counterparts, enduring the same risks and harsh living conditions.

    It took years for the Ukrainian government to officially recognize the combat service records of those who had fought within the volunteer battalions.

    In 2018, the regular Ukrainian military officially allowed women to serve in combat specialties, including as armored vehicle gunners, infantry commanders, and snipers. According to 2020 data, more than 31,000 women were serving in the Ukrainian armed forces at that time, representing 15.6% of the total force. By March 2021, that share was up to almost 22.5%, the Ukrainian military reported.

    As of March, Ukraine's armed forces comprise more than 900 female officers in command positions, including 109 platoon commanders and 12 company commanders, according to the military.

    In recognition of the women's front-line service, by March, the Ukrainian military had classified more than 13,000 women as "combatants." Of that number, 257 women received state awards for their combat service during the Donbas war. Nine of those awards were given posthumously.

    Nolan Peterson is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine and the author of Why Soldiers Miss War. A former US Air Force special operations pilot and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nolan is now a conflict journalist and author whose adventures have taken him to all seven continents. 

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